Doing Business the Modern Way

Now that the November internationals are over, the IRFU are turning (with the turning circle of the Titanic) their hands to the delicate matter of our nearly-out-of-contract superstars.

This is a matter worth tracking, and ticking off the names as they agree to stay (or otherwise) – post-Sexton, the vultures will be circling, and there is a major risk we will lose more front-line internationals to the Top14.

In no particular order, here is who doesn’t know where they will be playing come September (note: not a complete list, for example some of Frankie’s clients are also free agents, but we are concentrating on frontline internationals):

  • Paul O’Connell Imagine he ended up at Clermont, partnering Jamie Cudmore. Ain’t gonna happen though, he’s national captain, they’ll keep him here. Plus hard to see a French club paying up for someone so injury-prone and light
  • Jamie Heaslip Completely anonymous in green, apart from when he isn’t, which is most of the time. Refreshingly injury-free for the last ages, lets not test it by allowing Jacky Lorenzetti to play him for 50 games in a season
  • Conor Murray Best scrum-half in Ireland by a mile, young and good-looking hence marketable, and known to be unhappy about previous contract negotiations. With Ruan Pienaar shunning French money, he’ll be in demand. Lets tie him down
  • Sean O’Brien Heavily linked with RM92, O’Brien is the one remaining world class player based in Ireland – re-signing him would be something of a coup for the IRFU and would send a good message out
  • Rory Best Everyone’s favourite Nordie farmer – hard to see him anywhere but Ulster to be honest, and Humph has become pretty good at the whole negotiations thing. He’ll probably stay
  • Donnacha Ryan The rumours about Ryan going to France refuse to go away, and are annoyingly consistent, admittedly not helped by Ryan pitching up at the Aime Giral. He’d probably benefit from the phyiscality and intensity out there, but that doesn’t mean we’d be happy to see it
  • Keith Earls Key man in Munster’s backline – like Best, its hard to see him anywhere else. Big boshers in the three-quarter line are in vogue in the Top Quatorze – Earls doesn’t fit the bill there

Johnny Sexton was known to be unhappy about the late start and disengaged vibe to contract negotiations, let us all hope its handled better this time. Whatever about the wisdom of having half the national team out of contract at the same time (if you factor out BOD and assume all 7 above will start – not necessarily completely ridiculous – that’s exactly half the team), the sheer workload for the Union in having to negotiate woth multiple Mr 15%’s all at once, all of whom are undoubtedly fully transparent about their client’s needs, is a huge challenge. Details of Sexton’s RM92 deal started appearing in the press in mid-January, which is basically six weeks away – time is tight if something similar is to be avoided.

If we were to bet, we’d say Ryan will go and O’Brien and Murray will be hard-pressed to turn down what are sure to be mammoth offers. Squeaky-bum time.

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40 Comments

  1. Cian

     /  December 2, 2013

    I wonder if Sexton’s Racing experience, or the impression of it that the players you’ve listed got during the AIs, could make things a bit easier for the IRFU when it comes to convincing certain players to stay put. I think you could be about right though, Ryan is the most likely to leave unfortunately.

    I’d have to quibble with the proclamation of SOB as the “one remaining world class player based in Ireland” – there’s a solid argument to be made that Seanie is our only player who could make a world XXIII, but if you’re counting Sexton as the only other Irishman who could do the same I think you’re vastly overestimating his standing compared to the Southern Hemisphere tens (Carter, Cruden, QC, maybe even Barrett).

    • Jimbob

       /  December 2, 2013

      Healy could IMO

      • Cian

         /  December 2, 2013

        I completely agree, I’d kinda forgotten about him to be honest!

    • L.P.O.

       /  December 3, 2013

      Zounds! O’Brien to make a World XIII to face Mars? Not only do we have to contend with offers from the French, and our impending enslavement to the Martian hordes… but Seanie is now considering switching to rugby league as well? Nooooooooo!!!!!

      • Cian

         /  December 3, 2013

        Well, leaving aside the fact that 23 =/= 13, you can’t expect Martian teams to be up to speed on the complexities of rugby union yet. It’s only reasonable that they would start with league.

  2. Mike

     /  December 2, 2013

    The union should insist in negotiating with the players in the room. These Mr 15%’s are no better than estate agents most of the time.

    • Welcome to 1995. Wave to the players as they climb aboard the boat! But rest easy that you still occupy the moral high ground.

      No-one likes the spivs but they’re not going away…

    • Leinsterlion

       /  December 2, 2013

      Everytime I say it’s a game, you say it’s a business. Everytime I say it’s a business you say it’s a game,”.
      Its a professional sport, they have every right to get as much as they can in exchange for their ten pounds of flesh. Agents/advisors are a necessary part of that process if the player isnt to get shafted.

    • ArtVandelay

       /  December 2, 2013

      If they are no better than estate agents then the union suits should eat them for lunch. Or maybe the union suits are better than shopkeepers most of the time.

      As stated elsewhere, its a business and business negotiations should be free of emotional guilt trips.

  3. Rocky

     /  December 2, 2013

    There are strong rumours that the union is looking at contracts with a much lower basic salary and big pay for play bonuses – so that, if you play ten internationals a season, you still get the big money but, if you get injured, say, or dropped, then no bonus. A risky, if logical policy?

    • Glyph

       /  December 2, 2013

      What we really need is a policy like the All Blacks, if you aren’t based in Ireland you can’t play for the international team… The wages here are better than most All Blacks get and let’s be honest there are few Irish players who are of the same calibre skill and consistency wise. It would also have the added benefit of preventing an Irish team full of the same 30 somethings taking to the pitch ad nauseum.
      The coaches of both provinces and country would have to introduce youth as players in the twilight of their career look for the last big pay check with nothing to be gained by staying in Ireland except adding to their 50 something caps.

      • Yossarian

         /  December 2, 2013

        we don’t have the depth to exclude our top talent.New Zealand are probably the only side in the world who can do it and it nearly cost them a world cup when they wouldn’t call up Nick Evans. The South African’s who probably have the second greatest numbers of international quality players after NZ don’t do it. The difference in being a good club player of even H cup standard and front line test rugby is bigger than people realise.

  4. Rava

     /  December 2, 2013

    The uncertainty about European Rugby post 2014/15 will also have a bearing in the minds of the players. All top sportsmen want to pit themselves against the best.

    • abitofshoepie

       /  December 2, 2013

      I was just about to suggest reading Eddies blog. The other way of thinking is that letting players leave could be good for Irish rugby. Why not let french sugar daddies pay the salaries of those who have already made it to the top? Them players themselves then get exposed to a different style of rugby for a few years, and it frees up scarce cash and playing time for up and coming players. Ireland then has a bigger pool of players for the same money and therefore a greater ability to cope with injuries and outofformness. The downside risk is Irish European success (the big fish don’t actually play that many Rabo games) would probably be reduced, but with my Ireland hat on trophies in that arena haven’t translated into trophies at international level anyway.

      • Yossarian

         /  December 2, 2013

        Hypothetical point:johnny sexton missed kick against NZ due to leg injury that was very much a “fatigue” induced injury from playing 13 weeks in a row. What would it be worth to the IRFU if Ireland beat NZ?
        Based on Rabo standings and the possibility of less h cup rugby for the welsh regions if they don’t improve is there a chance the WRU will start investing in keeping players at home in the future?akin to Ireland circa 2001. English won’t want weak welsh provinces in premiership despite what macaferty is saying.

        • L.P.O.

           /  December 3, 2013

          We’re a pig in a poke nation… no serious rules set down, and the ones that are… well, a wink and a nudge and a reel on the fiddle and say no more. Been saying for years we should adopt the policy of players abroad don’t wear the green. It’s necessary for a nation of our size to do so. If you want to represent at test level, you play for one of the four provinces. It would counterbalance the French megadosh for ambitious players. It would help Connacht in particular, and the other provinces… it would help the national team. But no… the IRFU are only concerned with immediate income… black and red… Sexton’s off the books… score! Whom else can we offload out of the tackle, to call up, knackered, for the big money tests? Ching ching.

          Complete lack of vision, or understanding of where the game was inevitably heading. Missed the jump, as usual. Still swatting flies in the gate. The incompetence in the IRFU is astounding. Put it down for compassion’s sake.

  5. Tommy Kennedy (

     /  December 2, 2013

    I hope the IRFU don’t take this approach:

    We are a business and we aren’t making money we are going to lose a couple of players as we can’t offer them the deals they deserve.

    Johnny left last year and Madigan now has a genuine chance of starting big Heineken Cup games which in a way is good for Ireland and we saved about 500 grand.

    Leinster have players who will be of international quality to replace O Brien and Heaslip if they go. Ruddock, Murphy and Dom Ryan can step up. This again strengthens Joe Schidmt squad and those players should keep Leinster relatively competitive making the Irfu some money. Leinster are profit making and can attract good standard NIQ players.

    Bumper deal for Connor Murray and Donnacha Ryan because munster are broke and have no viable Irish eligible replacements in their squad,. If they leave, Munster are screwed they would be nothing more than a second rate team struggling to make the Top 6 in the Rabo and finishing 3rd in Heineken Cup qroups. They are going to be in the Irish squad for the next two year and this keeps Schidmt sweet as he seems pissed off over Johnny.

    • Any number of myths in this one….

      Saved 500 grand? If they’d offered Sexton 500 grand he’d still be playing in D4; plus they doubled Madigan’s salary and hired Gopperth. Plus they still have to pay Sexton whatever the going rate is for an Ireland game. If they “saved” half that I’d be surprised.

      Leinster are profit making? Sure, as long as you include the 3 million plus in player wages that they (and the other 3 provinces) get from the IRFU. The 6 nations is gravy. All else is cost.

      Munster a second rate team if they lose one star and one frankly bog-standard lock? Well they’re second rate already compared to the 2006-08 gang, but they’re still top of the Rabo, and, if I recall correctly, they were a dropped ball from the HEC final last year.

      • curates_egg

         /  December 2, 2013

        “Leinster are profit making?…The 6 nations is gravy. All else is cost.”

        Have anything to back that up? That flies in the face of what I have read elsewhere. I thought Leinster was profitable (and not dependent on IRFU). I know the others are. There is lots of bluster out there, so I would be happy to have what I have previously read disproved.

        • Assuming Philip Browne isn’t lying, then from a budget of 23 million invested in the provinces by the IRFU, we subtract 2.5 million for academies and 4-6 million for 20-ish “centrally contracted” players whose wages (I’m estimating an average or 200-300K) do not come out of the provincial pots (note: Leinster, Munster, Ulster only; Connacht have none). That leaves 14.5 – 16.5 million. Allowing for non-player related items (medical costs, non-playing staff etc.), that leaves, conservatively, 12 million to divide 4 ways for provinical player remuneration (when Connacht was rescued/revamped 3 years ago, much play was made that they would no longer be a development province but would receive the same funding as the other 3).

          So to be clear, the 3 top provinces are directly funded by the IRFU in 3 ways: (1) a large direct funding towards the provinces pot for wages which the provinces can add to using ticket sales/other commercial activities (2) central contracting which reduces the outgoings from that provincial pot (3) direct funding of the provincial academies; Connacht are funded through methods (1) and (3).

          It’s probably true that Leinster “pay their way” better than the other provinces, and also probably true that at least some of what the IRFU “invests” in the provincial game was earned by the provinces e.g. merit payments from the HEC, but if 85% of the IRFU income comes from the international team, and their single biggest outgoing is supporting the professional game, there is *no way* that any of the provinces could be profitable without massive subsidies from the Union.

          Some key quotes and a link to IRFU accounts below….

          Philip Browne in September 2013:

          “For instance, in Ireland we pump about €23 million into Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connacht in order to fund the professional game, whereas that doesn’t happen in England. The professional players are paid for by clubs, and the clubs then lend the players to their unions for the international team. So it’s a different philosophy.”

          “And the international team generates about 85% of the revenues for Irish rugby as a totality.”

          http://www.thescore.ie/philip-browne-irfu-heineken-cup-1092333-Sep2013/

          Eddie Wigglesworth (when announcing the since abandoned one-player-a-position rule):

          “We’re spending about €2.5m a year on our academy structures and they’re churning out players,” he says. “The worst possible scenario for us is that we have nowhere for those players to play because there are blockages in the system. So what we’re trying to do is loosen up some of those blockages without changing the whole system.”

          http://dementedmole.com/2012/01/10/cut-paste-remove-abusive-references-to-irfu-officials-and-toilet-humour-puns-on-their-names-post/#more-1787

          See also: page 38 of http://www.irishrugby.ie/downloads/IRFU_ANNUAL_REPORT_20122013.pdf

          • This is brilliant my friend – we should share this

          • I’d like to share this if ok – what is your Twitter handle?

          • @salmsonconnacht aptly enough, go right ahead.

          • curates_egg

             /  December 3, 2013

            Cheers for that. Great post. I don’t believe the 85% figure by the way but that does not take away from your excellent and well-sourced comment: you cannot be held responsible for the spin of Philip Browne.

            The 85% figure just does not seem credible, whether you look at matchday revenue, TV rights income or merchandising.

            The hole they dug themselves in Landsdowne Road has been well documented, as has the subsequent gong-show ticket policy: if the national side only plays 5-6 home games a year and you are not even selling them out… Contrast that with Leinster’s games in the Aviva.

            Also on the merchandising front: I only have anecdotal evidence but the provinces would seem to have done a far better job marketing their product and merchandise.

            The Heineken Cup definitely brings in more TV money than the internationals.

            So, on all three of the main revenue headings I can think of, it would seem hard to believe the international side is generating such a disproportionate income. If not from these sources, where is all this revenue coming from? Sponsorship? Pull the other one.

  6. Tommy Kennedy (

     /  December 2, 2013

    Leinster take care of Jimm Gopps wages no? and Mads was always going to get a wage hike after last years performance but again Leinster are paying that too no? So the IFRU definitely saved a large portion of the 500 grand they could have payed Johnny.

    Leinster are most certainly making profits. When the European super league was being muted earlier in the year they were the only Irish team in a financial position to join it.

    Calling Donnacha Ryan bog standard is laughable and he is twice the player of Munster’s other locks: O Callaghan, Nagle, Holland etc.

    If even Murray goes they are screwed and will become a really average player team. They’ve already lost Rog who they didn’t replace and Dougie who they replaced with an untested S.A winger. So yeah Munster are very close to becoming average.

    • All contracts are signed with, and backed by, the IRFU. The IRFU directly fund over half the Leinster wage-bill. This is a way lower percentage than, say Connacht as Leinster have more fans, higher ticket prices, far better commercial side etc. but don’t go telling me they’re 3 million in the black every year.

      Ryan is bog-standard. He took til his late 20s to get established at provincial level; his international appearances came when the team was at a decade-long low; he played the last HEC game at 6 to accommodate O’Callaghan; and I don’t think for a second that he’ll even make the Irish panel ahead of Touhy, Toner, and McCarthy if he moves to France.

      Obviously we have a handful of world-class-or-enough players like Sexton, SOB, Murray who can freely move to France, but the likes of Ryan, Earls, perhaps even Heaslip and the injury prone POC would be looking over their shoulders big-time if they moved abroad.

      • Ireland's Answer (allthingsrugby1)

         /  December 2, 2013

        salmsonconnacht your a troll Ryan is far from Bog standard he was 26 when he became first choice for Munster. He made is debut in 04 and has played 120 plus games for Munster since. Ireland decline hasn’t anything to do with him as he has been one of their most consistent performers since 2011 and if you call Ryan bog standard then that makes Munster far worse than average as he is in their top five players!

        • Not trolling: Ryan made *one* start in the HEC before the 2011/12 season when he usurped DOC, the same season he turned 28. This was the same season he made his first Ireland start. Hardly precocious, even by second row standards. Granted bog standard is a but harsh – certainly at provincial/club level – so apologies for unnecessary bluntness, but at International level he is a long way behind POC in the chasing group of Toner, McCarthy and Touhy. I don’t think he’s sufficiently ahead of that group for his international career to survive a move to France.

    • Rob

       /  December 2, 2013

      Hasn’t that untested SA winger won a Super 15 and Currie cup already?

  7. Nice work, I wonder are there more players that should be on that list, Rob Kearney is world class and is definitely someone wheo qwould suit Top 14 rugby. What about Mr Ego himself when he’s fit again. Although he is worshipped as a demi-god by the countless army of Munster fans, I’m sure he could do well in France.

    Troubling times lay ahead fro the IRFU, with the big spenders lying in the tall grass eyeing down the barrle towards their trophy kills, we have to wonder what can our Union do to keep our boys here?

    • I take your point about Kearney being both world class and suited to the Top 14, but would counter: Is the gap between Kearney and the likes of Payne and Henshaw anything like the yawning chasms that separate Sexton from Jackson/Madigan or Murray from Reddan/Boss/Marmion?

      • Leinsterlion

         /  December 2, 2013

        The “yawning chasm” that separates Murray from Reddan/Boss/Marmion, is that the distance it feels Murrays passes travel over 5m in comparison to the rest?

      • curates_egg

         /  December 2, 2013

        You are a funny one today salmson: I’ll give you that. The only yawning gap appears to be between the arse-cheeks when you’re talking 😉

        Is the gap between Kearney and Henshaw comparable to the gap between Murray and multiple cup winning scrumhalves?

      • You know there’s nothing like talking about your passions with people who have the requisite knowledge, I agree with your counter in hindsight.

  8. Yossarian

     /  December 3, 2013

    I know this article was around front line players but as someone who could very shortly be replacing Ross at Leinster/Ireland he might qualify for discussion
    http://www.irishtimes.com/sport/rugby/leinster-face-losing-martin-moore-as-french-and-english-clubs-circle-1.1614867

    • This is an extremely worrying development

    • dubya

       /  December 3, 2013

      pound to a penny that GT got this “story” from Niall Woods (Moore’s agent) who is using it as a stick to beat the IRFU with. The real story here is Thornley’s relationship with Woods and the use of the Irish Times to conduct contract negotiations.
      While some players prosper when playing abroad (Jennings, Cullen, Mick O’Driscoll) it probably doesn’t do their national prospects any good.
      If Moore goes then Tadhg Furlong becomes the heir apparent at Leinster and likely moves ahead of Moore in the national pecking order. That’s not being reported and should be considered by all parties.

      • Stevo

         /  December 3, 2013

        I think you’re probably right, dubya. The IT seems to take a scattergun approach to which articles they allow comments for online, but they never seem to be allowed for Goebbels!

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